By Philip Agbese
The maxim that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty is one of the universal rights of man documented by relevant international instrument and even our domestic law. It is, however, also a fact that is often overlooked – in most cases by power drink individuals that constitute themselves into judges and juries in cases for which they have vested interest.
The reinstatement of the Executive Secretary the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf by President Muhammadu Buhari is a clear indication that we are making progress as a nation towards becoming a society where a man would not be punished simply because he refused to obey his fellow man to do what is wrong. It is confirmation that the march is towards a society where law is supreme over all men – one in which corruption at all times succumbs to justice.
To put things in perspective, there are fundamental questions in dire need of answers. Did the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole suspend Prof. Yusuf in public interest? Is there an ultra-clandestine motive for suspending the NHIS boss? How much of the allegations against Professor Yusuf were trumped up? What did the Minister of Health stand to gain by contriving the crisis that almost ruined the sector he was meant to grow? Getting fair answers to these questions require that we look at the crux of the matter and to systematically establish possible subterranean motive(s) behind this whole fiasco.
The Minister suspended Prof. Yusuf in June 2017, citing allegations of gross misconduct for which he was summarily found guilty of alleged offences that ranged from nepotism to theft of public funds. However, a credible Nigerian Newspaper, the Daily Trust, in an investigative piece published on its website on 10th of July 2017, titled “the suspension of NHIS Boss: the untold story” chronicled how the minister of health acted out of malice in the suspension of Prof Yusuf. The long and short of it is that the NHIS Boss was suspended because of his refusal to oblige to series of monetary requests from Professor Adewole using the Federal Ministry of Health as cover. One thing that has remained mute in most of the narratives of this sordid saga is the fact that Professor Yusuf would have breached several policy directives and few extant laws had he obliged.
Specifics of the requests turned down by Professor Yusuf include demands for him to sponsor foreign events, hiring of aircrafts for the minister, paying other sundry travel costs for the minister and his lackeys in the ministry among others. His serial refusal to fund the junketing lifestyle of the minister and his subordinates angered the ministry officials, particularly Prof. Adewole.
While one may be tempted to condemn the NHIS Executive Secretary for not acceding to the requests so made to his organization, one must also be alarmed that the agency had spent hundreds of millions of naira in sponsoring officials of the parent ministry of health despite a 2008 Federal Government circular that prohibited such spending vide document Ref.No.SGF.6/VIII, dated May 8, 2008, entitled “Need for strict adherence to financial regulations in cooperation between MDAs and other arms of government and between MDAs an their parastatals”.
Instead of being disrespected with the suspension order slammed on him, apparently because circumstances permitted the Minister of Health to get listening ears in some quarters at that time, Prof. Yusuf should rather be commended with some sort of award thrown in for his resoluteness in standing up against profligacy. He should be recognized for standing firm under pressure having been under barrage of so many letters from the minister of health and his ministry requesting for sponsorship for trips of their officials to conferences abroad.
The refusal of these cap in hand soliciting from the Executive Secretary of NIHS and his reaction to them was bound to have produced the kind of victimization that was unleashed against him. The ministry officials had run such racket with his predecessor hence the vehemence with which the minister of health wanted to unseat the incumbent and bring back in someone that would be pliant. Between September 2015 and November 2016, the NHIS’ former acting Executive Secretary had severally approved between N3 million to N15million for the ministry, far above his approval limit of N2.5million. This is the practice that Prof. Yusuf refused to comply with, his greatest sin.
The intensity of the witch hunt is therefore not surprising since Professor Adewale was one of the beneficiaries of these illegal payments. For instance, Daily trust published that on November 19, 2015, the ministry via a letter with Ref.No.MH.8500/TI, requested N5million from NHIS as support to attend WHO meeting in Chad. The Scheme also approved N5.1million on November 23, 2015 for the ministry, out of which N2million was paid directly to the personal account of the minister domiciled in Stanbic IBTC. The minister’s angst was first triggered when his request for N197 million from the scheme “intervention fund” to execute some projects located across seven Federal Medical Centres, which Prof. Yusuf promptly turned down.
The fortunate thing is that justice has now been done now that it has been proven that the suspension of the NHIS boss could not hold water because it violated legal and civil service processes. What President Buhari has done has signaled the fact that even in fighting corruption, actions must be concrete, ethical and devoid of malice and other self-serving considerations.
The Minister of health and his panel, set up to probe the NHIS boss, stood as judges and juries in a case they have strong interest in. The solution to corruption in Nigeria is not implicating the innocent to settle scores. Solution to corruption comes from true justice – justice for the accused and for the accuser and that is the only way society can benefit from it.
Reinstatement of Prof Yusuf is a testimony to President Buhari’s belief in due process overrides any other consideration. It is not just about taking people to Golgotha without first establishing their guilt and crime. Now that the NHIS boss has been reinstated, it is pertinent for anti-corruption agencies to now do their jobs and get to the bottom of the matter. The principle of real justice, which is the moral obligation to act on the basis of fair adjudication between competing claims should now take its course.
From throve of evidence on ground, one would only expect that it is Prof. Adewole is the one to be axed as Minister of Health for gross misconduct and flagrant disregard for due process. I will rest my case with the words of George R. Martins, who said “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”
Prof. Adewole got to a desperate extreme by suspending the NHIS boss who was only trying to insist on the right thing being done. To punish him for doing the right thing means those who perverted the process to victimize him must be doubly punished for abusing the system; only such principle of justice will deliver an impactful anti-corruption fight to Nigeria.
Agbese is a human rights law researcher based in the United Kingdom.